Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Painting Drapery

Deliquesce, oils on canvas, Ruth Phipps
In discussing the fine art of rendering transparent, reflective objects (glass) a few days ago, I became aware of the fact that virtually every artist who does so has a somewhat different method of doing so. The same applies to the art of rendering fabric folds either draped over a model or as a valid content area in and of itself. Some might argue that painting drapery is at least as difficult as painting glass (if not more so). Personally, I've found that not to be the case, but then I've painted far more glass than drapery so... In any case, this is not a "how-to" course in drawing and painting drapery so much as a discourse about painting drapery. Also, any instructional material that creeps in is limited solely to how I have come to draw and paint the illusion of woven material rather than how to best do so. In fact, perhaps there is no such thing.
Greek ceramic drapery painting--lots of lines.
Painting drapery goes back several thousand years. The Greeks (above) and Egyptians, when not painting nudes, may have been among the first to do so. And from what I've seen, they did so rather poorly, emphasizing lines rather than volume. As one who has taught drawing at every level for more than half a lifetime, it is very difficult to guide students away from the tip of the drawing instrument (which tends to create lines) to the broader side of the pencil, or stick of pigmented material (which tends to create volume). Yet no other drawing effort demands the shading skills and properties of a broad stroke than that of rendering fabric folds. At best, lines, if they're used at all, are only suggestive of the starting point from which the subtleties of broad, shading strokes originate.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Old Blue, Jim Lane
I have always been one to emphasize the importance of learning to draw before learning to paint. If you feel you must use color in your drawing efforts, then stick to dry pigments, either charcoal, chalk, or pastels (ugh) or artists' grade colored pencils and/or sticks (Prismacolor makes both with identical color hues). I highly recom-mend the sticks (either black and white or color) for rendering fabrics. And for simple drawing exercises I suggest a light to medium gray sur-face, allowing both darker and lighter values to be applied. Developing such skills using dry pigments is not only simpler and more natural for beginners, but provides added confidence when switching to paint.
Green and Blue Drapery Study,
Nancy Pruden
In painting drapery, the media used makes all the difference in the world as to how you approach the task. Oils (top) are probably a good media to start with in that they allow almost infinite possibilities for correcting errors, either wet into wet or wet over dry. We refer to that as being "forgiving." Acrylics (right) are less so for one simple reason, they dry within minutes (sometimes even seconds) and they use a polymer base which is not, when wet, transparent but milky. That means that colors, when they dry, are going to be slightly darker than when wet. Therefore, wet over dry demands certain predictive instincts on the part of the artist that take time and experience to develop. Yes, they are forgiving, allowing as much or more in the way of corrective efforts as oils, but it's a media attribute the artist has to learn to use. As for watercolors, the painter has to work quickly and with a great deal of assurance in that so many areas of draped fabric involve soft folds. Watercolor tends toward hard edges unless an area is kept wet for a relatively long period as various washes are applied to deepen and darken the colors (below). However, keeping a large area wet often disturbs previously applied colors. Yes, unwanted hard edges can be mitigated, but that effort itself takes a great deal of care. And, unlike oils or acrylics, the possibilities along that line, are not unlimited, to say the least. Even if you've garnered some experience using watercolor, you're going to be challenged greatly in applying your skills to the painting of draped fabrics.

Bed After, watercolor, Heather Horton
Whether drawing or painting, the artist needs either nicely contrasting photos with accurate color reproduction, or a studio undisturbed by dogs, cats, and kids. Even minor disturbance of what is, in fact, a fairly intricate still-life, can entail tremendous difficulty in restoring the original arrangement, or in fact, actually force the artist to start over. At the very least, if you're going to work from an actual, three-dimensional arrangement of drapery, you should photograph the damned thing before starting, so you can switch sources if necessary, or at least have a ready reference when restoring the arrangement as needed.

Natural light is always best. Notice the use of
white board to create a reflected fill light.
In creating a drapery source, whether drawing directly from it, or to photograph, you are really arranging two elements--the fabric, and the lighting. Drape the fabric in a natural manner over whatever surface seems appropriate, keeping in mind your own drawing and/or painting skills. If you're a beginner, keep it simple. Then arrange a prime source of lighting to one side (never centered straight on) and a secondary (or fill) light from another angle to provide subtleties (above). Too much light flattens the arrangements while a lack of fill lighting often creates extremely high contrasts that, while certainly dramatic, will offer you little in the way of experience with halftones. As with painting glass, be sure to lock down your drawing with a spray coat of matte medium before starting to paint.

Still Life Apples Drawing, 2012, Richard Romero
Ideal contrast for a drawing to be painted.
Then, assuming you plan to ruin your drawing with one or more coats of paint, start sketching, again using the side of your drawing instrument as much as possible in order to capture the broad essence of what you see. That is, start with the most difficult area first. Apply as much detail as you can, or feel you need, (but keep contrasts relatively low so as to avoid contaminating your colors later with dry pigments). The drawing should be accurate, but not necessarily as completely developed as it would be unpainted (above).

Click above for a quick drawing lesson

Still-life with Curtain and Flowered Pitcher, 1899, Paul Cezanne
As mentioned in painting glass, start painting with what you perceive as the easiest portion of the painting (usually the background and any simple foreground areas). After that, I like to begin by painting in the darkest areas (folds) working out to the lighter areas, followed by the application of white highlights to brighten the medium tones. Never mix white pigments into areas containing black or dull browns. Use your medium tone hues to lighten dark areas if necessary. For large works, I tend to plan painting sessions to correspond to various naturally delineated sections (especially in using acrylics). For smaller works, try to complete the painting (except for touch-ups) in a single session. With oils, it makes little difference, though if your right handed, it might be best to start in the upper left quadrant of the painting just to keep your fist out of wet paint as you move down over the work. (Lefties, of course, will want to reverse that.)

Dead Christ, ca. 1480,  Andrea Mantegna,
a Renaissance master of complex drapery.
Venus Rising from the Sea, ca. 1822,
Raphaelle Peale--a joke, a protest,
and a masterful handling of drapery.


No comments:

Post a Comment